On Mother’s Day, we’re here checking out Tremain Smith’s show, “The Art of Grief and What Follows,” which was created over the three years since our mother died. Much of the work and writing was not made for public viewing, but instead was created in the course of Tremain’s process of contending with the loss of Mom, which ultimately included joy. The collection became a show because OCJAC wanted it to be, after its rabbi connected with Tremain.
By Van Smith
Published in City Paper, Oct. 12, 2005
When state prosecutor Robert Rohrbaugh announced Oct. 5th that a Baltimore strip club had been fined for exceeding the maximum allowable donations to political campaigns, recipients of the contributions ran for cover. Jonathan Epstein, spokesman for Baltimore mayor and gubernatorial candidate Martin O’Malley, announced that the tainted contributions would be refunded, as did Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s campaign-finance director, John Reith.
“We have a policy not to accept these checks, but as a practical matter sometimes they slip through,” Epstein was quoted as saying in The Sun on Oct. 6. “In the future,” Reith announced in the same article, “we would not accept contributions from organizations like this.”
In fact, City Paper has found that political contributions from adult-entertainment interests are ubiquitous in the Baltimore area, found in more than 50 state and federal campaign committees. More than 225 donations from interests associated with Baltimore’s adult-entertainment industry found their way into state campaign committees between 1999 and 2004, for a total of nearly $110,000, according to campaign-finance records. On the federal level, nearly two dozen donations totaling close to $20,000 were given to Maryland political campaigns between 1998 and 2005. Those numbers include contributions from interests on the Block, Baltimore’s strip-club district near City Hall, as well as from other strip clubs and pornography interests. It also includes contributions from lawyers and accountants for the adult-entertainment industry, as well as from real-estate interests involved in the sex business.
City Paper’s study of donations from adult-entertainment interests included only those parties that could be connected readily to the industry in the Baltimore area. Actual totals, if the whole universe of donors could be ascertained, are likely much higher. Democrats were the overwhelming favorites of adult-entertainment contributors, perhaps due to the advantage Democrats have among elected officials in the Baltimore region.
While adult entertainment may be judged by some as inconsistent with mainstream political values, it is part of lawful, regulated commerce, and its practitioners enjoy the same rights of free speech as everyone else—including political expression in the form of campaign donations. Nonetheless, as the reactions by the O’Malley and Ehrlich camps make clear, the taint of money made from sex is strong enough for some politicians to want to steer clear. Still, thousands of sex-trade dollars have entered the campaign coffers of Baltimore-area politicians—perhaps because the campaigns didn’t know where the money was coming from, or perhaps because where the money was coming from wasn’t all that important as long as the public didn’t know about it.
Epstein says that the O’Malley campaign is trying hard to keep sex-industry money out of its accounts. “We’re continually updating our vetting system of campaign contributions, utilizing media, government, and other sources available to the public,” he says. “We are as thorough as possible, examining all the contributions we receive. However, as with any political vetting system, there can never be a foolproof way to catch everything.”
Indeed, neither the O’Malley campaign nor the campaigns of dozens of other Baltimore-area politicians have been able to keep away from adult-entertainment money. An illustrative case study involves two of Baltimore’s most prodigious sex-trade political donors: Jack Gresser and the now-deceased Samuel Boltansky.
Gresser and Boltansky were publicly outed as important figures in the porn business nearly two decades ago, with the 1986 release of the final report of the U.S. Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography. In the report’s chapter titled “Organized Crime,” detailed and extensive information was given about them. “Gresser and Boltansky distribute about $3,000,000 each year in pornographic material,” the report stated, and proceeded to spell out their parts in the national porn-distribution network, which was infamously riddled with organized-crime connections. Bon-Jay Sales was Gresser’s main porn-distribution company, and Komar Ltd. was Boltansky’s.
Neither Bon-Jay nor Komar are among the companies making political donations to Baltimore-area politicians today. Gresser, who owns the building that houses Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club on the Block, makes most of his contributions through BFC Realty Inc. Boltansky contributed in his own name until he passed away in late 2002. His widow and son also contribute in their own names, as well as in the names of several of their businesses. The Boltanskys’ corporate empire includes real-estate holdings, and they are celebrated philanthropists—though a survey of press coverage shows virtually no reference to their connections to the porn industry.
Gresser’s political donations on the state level between 1999 and 2004 totaled $11,690. The recipients, all Democrats, were O’Malley ($4,290), Baltimore City Council President Sheila Dixon ($2,500), state Sen. Joan Carter Conway ($1,000), state Del. Jon Cardin ($750), former Baltimore County executive Dutch Ruppersberger ($600), former state senator Perry Sfikas ($500), Senate President Thomas “Mike” Miller ($500), former Baltimore City councilwoman Lois Garey ($500), former state senator Thomas Bromwell ($450), former state senator Barbara Hoffman ($200), Baltimore City Sheriff John Anderson ($200), state Del. Jeffrey Paige ($100), and state Sen. Nathaniel McFadden ($100). On the federal level, Gresser made one $250 donation to U.S. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger.
The Boltanskys’ $26,225 in state-level donations between ’99 and ’04 were made in their own individual names and via the following companies: 6401 York Road Associates, HLS Property, and 4-6-8 Property. Two Republicans received donations: Ehrlich ($3,000) and former Baltimore County councilman Wayne Skinner ($2,825). The rest were Democrats: O’Malley ($8,150), City Councilwoman Rikki Spector ($3,000), Ruppersberger ($2,150), former Baltimore County Council candidate Mel Mintz ($2,000), Baltimore County Councilman Kevin Kamenetz ($1,150), state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer ($1,000), Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith ($750), state Del. Jon Cardin ($650), state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran ($500), Baltimore County Councilman John Olszewski ($500), state Del. Bobby Zirkin ($300), and Senate President Miller ($250).
On the federal level, where corporate contributions aren’t allowed, the Boltanskys gave a total of $8,110. The campaigns of U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski and former candidate for U.S. Congress Mark Kennedy Shriver each got $500, and the rest went to the campaign of U.S. Rep. Ben Cardin, who is currently running to replace the outgoing Paul Sarbanes as U.S. senator. All are Democrats.
By press time, Larry Boltansky and Gresser had not responded to calls for comment. An employee who answered the phone at Gresser’s Custom House News on the Block told City Paper that “I don’t know how to reach him, either, even though I’ve been working for him for 10 years.” But he promised to relay the message to someone who could contact Gresser.
This is not the first time in recent history that Baltimore politicians drew scrutiny after receiving donations from adult-entertainment interests. In 2001 O’Malley announced that his campaign had returned a $2,000 donation from Rosalie Jackson, the mother of strip-club manager and convicted drug-and-gun felon Kenneth A. Jackson, after it was disclosed in a City Journal article. Jackson, his mother, and the strip-club company—K.A.J. Enterprises—have contributed to various state campaigns over the years, including Dixon’s, state Del. Salima Siler Marriott’s, and state Del. Talmadge Branch’s, all of them Democrats. In addition, on the federal level, Kenneth Jackson gave $500 to the National Republican Congressional Committee in 2003, and Rosalie Jackson contributed $1,000 to then-Vice President Al Gore’s presidential campaign in 1999.
By Van Smith
Published in City Paper, Feb. 13, 2013
If ever there wasto be a Baltimore landmark noted for its ties to free-speech battles, it might well be the historic brick warehouse at 3300 Clipper Mill Road in Hampden-Woodberry, a building that once produced sails for the Baltimore clipper ships that ruled global trade in the early 19th century. Two of its more modern tenants fought government charges of peddling “obscenity” so that, today, the likes of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover and such adult-magazine titles as Wild ’n’Sassy can be sold and distributed without fear of legal prosecution.
When U.K.-based Penguin Books published Lady Chatterley’s Lover in 1960, the company’s U.S. distributor was moving 2 million books annually out of 3300 Clipper Mill—and business grew briskly after the company’s widely publicized 1959 acquittal of Obscene Publications Act charges in England for publishing Lawrence’s book. That same year, U.S. judges spurned government attempts to block U.S. distribution of the book, which is rife with taboo—if now outdated—terms depicting explicit sex. The shock over Lawrence’s prose seems quaint and misplaced now, thanks in part, perhaps, to the failure to stop its dissemination, allowing once-offensive words and phrases to become benignly commonplace and barely titillating.
But the censors were not done yet. In the U.S., they fixed their sights on the folks who distributed pornography, including Baltimore’s Samuel Boltansky, who ended up spending much of his career getting porn and sex toys out to the masses, despite government accusations of illegally distributing obscene material and having ties to organized crime. He did a pretty good job fighting back, winning acquittal in 1972 after a federal obscenity prosecution and mounting his own legal campaign trying to make sure prison inmates had proper access to pornography.
For decades, until his 2002 death, Boltansky ran his family-owned business, Komar Co., which distributes pornography, sex toys, and the like, out of 3300 Clipper Mill. A recent City Paper visit there, attempting to get an interview and tour from Komar’s current operator, Morton Hyatt, was not successful.
But the company’s long history and significance in free-speech battles is easily researched—as is its current sex-market prominence, reflected in a recent ad that features images of Rabbit brand dildos and the words: “Working like Rabbits . . . to Service the Adult Retailer with 13,000 Adult Toys and Novelties and counting.” The ad boasts of Komar’s “over 50 years supplying adult stores, home parties, online retail, and convenience stores with adult magazines, toys, novelties, and DVDs!”
In 1964, Boltansky was one of the incorporators of Central Magazine Sales, according to 1,960-page final report of the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography, published in 1986 and known familiarly as “the Meese Report,” after then-U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese. In 1971, the company was redubbed Komar Ltd.—essentially the same name it still uses today. Included in the Meese Report were the findings of a 1977 Department of Justice report entitled “Organized Crime Involvement in Pornography,” which provides details about Boltansky’s role in Komar and other porn-distribution companies, but says nothing about either’s alleged organized-crime ties.
Boltansky died in 2002, 30 years after his obscenity acquittal by then-Maryland U.S. District Judge R. Dorsey Watkins, who ruled that the 18 magazines his company distributed—including such titles as Party Pair, Double Pleasure, Wild’n’Sassy, Gay Mood, and Up Tight—while “clearly obscene in the ordinary sense of the word,” are not “constitutionally obscene under the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the First Amendment.”
Today, Boltansky is mostly remembered locally as a prominent real-estate developer and philanthropist. Among his and his family’s beneficiaries has been the Jewish Museum of Maryland, which, at its annual meetings, features a keynote speaker invited in Boltansky’s honor. But during Boltansky’s long porn-distribution career, he was a trailblazer in fending off police and prosecutorial witch hunts over porn—probes that are rarely heard of today.
Thanks to Komar and Penguin, 3300 Clipper Mill stands as a monument to the hard-fought right to provide people with the kink they want.
By Van Smith
Published in City Paper, March, 6, 2013
The correctional staffers met at a McDonald’s restaurant to get their stories straight. Having already lied to investigators probing the brutal March 2008 beatings of inmate Kenneth Davis at Roxbury Correctional Institution (RCI) in Hagerstown, saying they knew nothing about the incident, they needed to make sure they maintained that fiction—even consulting books about interview techniques to help them mislead truth-seekers. A lieutenant, now charged with obstructing justice for helping facilitate the cover-up, had provided the books and shared officers’ home phone numbers in order to set up the meeting away from work.
The jailers’ coordinated cover-up efforts in the aftermath of the Davis beatings are alleged in federal court documents filed in a quickly mounting Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights Division prosecution based on an ongoing FBI probe. Two federal grand jury indictments for conspiring to beat Davis and cover up the crimes were handed down Feb. 27 against nine current and former Maryland corrections staffers, with other criminal conspiracy charges filed previously against another four.
So far, four current corrections employees—lieutenants Edwin Stigile and Jason Weicht, sergeant Josh Hummer, and correctional officer Walter Steele—and nine former officers have been charged. Three former officers and a former sergeant, Lanny Harris, were charged previously via criminal informations, which are filed with the defendants’ consent and usually indicate a guilty plea is imminent; three of them—Ryan Lohr, Dustin Norris, and Philip Mayo—have already pleaded guilty. The other indicted former officers are James Kalbflesh, Jeremy McCusker, Tyson Hinckle, Reginald Martin, and Michael Morgan. Those indicted face maximum sentences of between 25 and 55 years in prison.
In court documents, the alleged illegal conduct is said to have spawned from a “culture at RCI” in which “officers would beat up an inmate who had previously hit an officer,” despite knowing that “this practice of using force to punish and injure inmates was unlawful.” This culture is also implicated in the alleged cover-up: “officers would never tell investigators if they saw, or participated in, an assault on an inmate,” the documents say.
The beatings Davis received—four of them in a 24-hour period while he was “inside a single-occupant cell and did not pose a threat to anyone,” say court documents—were exhaustively investigated after they occurred, and numerous correctional officers lost or left their jobs as a result. Maryland law enforcers’ efforts to criminally convict some of them largely failed before juries, however, amid a prosecutor’s claims of a “blue wall” and “code of silence” among jailers.
After the beatings and ensuing investigation, Maryland’s prison agency, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS), “conducted an extensive review of all use of force policies and procedures,” as well as “training for correctional officers in the proper use of force,” and “found [them all] to be appropriate,” department spokesperson Rick Binetti wrote in an email. DPSCS’ long-held conclusion about the incident is that it was an isolated event involving rogue officers—a position that conflicts with the FBI’s contention that a “culture” of illegal beatings and cover-ups was in place.
The guilty pleas tendered so far in federal court, Binetti wrote, “along with the previous terminations of others in wake of this incident. . . suggests that these former correctional officers worked under strong misperceptions about how they were to conduct themselves professionally.” Those involved “ignored their training, did not follow the Department’s correctional officer code of conduct, and failed the professional responsibilities expected of them,” Binetti wrote.
David Fathi, the director of the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), says the circumstances prompting the current probe and prosecution in Maryland “is not uncommon” around the country, since “prisons are closed environments housing unpopular, politically powerless people,” so “if there isn’t adequate oversight and supervision, bad things happen.” When they come to light, “sometimes it leads to a concession by the agency that there’s a problem and positive changes result, but sometimes not.” A positive example, he says, is in Los Angeles, where an ACLU class-action lawsuit alleging a pattern of inmate beatings coincided with the appointment of a citizens’ commission on jail violence that issued suggestions for reforms that “are being implemented as we speak. But absent outside pressure, it’s all too easy for the agency to sweep these things under the rug.”
The current spate of prosecutions started out with charges against Lohr, filed Jan. 18. His guilty plea, entered on Jan. 30, was the first court document to reveal the probe’s findings that illegal retaliatory beatings had become institutionalized at RCI.
When asked about this on Feb. 5, Binetti called it a “ridiculous supposition,” mistakenly thinking that he was responding to a reporter’s theory about the investigation’s direction, rather than the federal government’s contention.
Since then, successive court documents filed in the ongoing prosecution have more specifically described the idea that RCI’s correctional culture included retaliatory beatings and cover-ups which officers knew to be illegal, providing a troubling context in which Davis’ beatings occurred. And while Maryland’s wide-ranging crackdown focused on officers rather than supervisors, the federal prosecution includes accusations against current supervisors—who, since they still have their jobs, apparently emerged unscathed in the state investigation—of participating in the conspiracy.
On Feb. 26, a day before the indictments were handed down and just after a third former officer had been charged federally, Binetti offered an official statement: “DPSCS does not take issue with any DOJ investigation related to the RCI/Ken Davis case. And in fact if asked, DPSCS would fully cooperate in any way it can.” After the indictments named an officer, a sergeant, and two lieutenants who are still on the job, Binetti added, “All we can tell you is that these four employees have been placed on administrative leave.”
By Van Smith
Published in City Paper, May 29, 2013
Inmates are convicted criminals, and many land in prison for violence and dishonesty they may repeat on the inside. Correctional officers (COs) are sworn to protect the safety of inmates and the public, and have a very tough job watching over their charges. Inmates assault them, sometimes kill them, and regularly provoke them with the types of nasty, unruly behavior one might expect from convicted criminals who, generally speaking, are not to be trusted.
Sometimes, though, inmates provide critical, confirming details of large-scale problems in prison systems. Sometimes they are truth-tellers with valuable insights about an often dark and disturbing milieu—prison life—that by and large remains tightly guarded from public view.
Their avenues for doing this are limited. An inmate’s letter to a reporter alleging official misconduct, for instance, will generally be regarded with well-founded skepticism that can only be overcome by exhaustive corroboration that, in the end, may utterly fail to support what’s alleged. Another route is to file lawsuits, and many, many inmates do this, and the vast majority of their complaints are dismissed because they simply don’t hold water, either on the facts or on procedural grounds.
But an inmate who files a lawsuit which then, despite his lack of sophistication or legal counsel, survives the well-oiled, heavily documented attacks of government attorneys, well, that inmate has accomplished something rare and extraordinary. He ends up, after having initially scrawled a handwritten complaint on notepaper or on a preprinted form with extra pages attached, with court-appointed attorneys who, if he’s fortunate, prosecute his case with zeal and enter properly formatted legal filings with all the points and authorities.
That inmate’s battle-tested allegations are worth noting. And if the case proves sufficiently strong, he’ll end up with a settlement that may include a check, reassignment to a safer prison environment, or even a court-adjudicated agreement to implement relevant reforms. It’s unusual, but it happens—and there are a good number of well-developed inmate lawsuits that shed important light on Maryland’s current correctional-corruption scandals.
When, in April, the nation took notice after an FBI probe resulted in a Maryland racketeering indictment against members of the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) prison gang, including 13 COs accused of smuggling contraband into the jail and generally facilitating the gang’s criminal takeover of the Baltimore City Detention Center (BCDC), reporters on the story found two inmates’ prior lawsuits that confirmed aspects of the FBI’s allegations. Both cases were notable in showing that Maryland’s correctional corruption is a troublingly persistent problem, and both had survived the gauntlet of government motions for dismissal or summary judgment to end up finding the holy grail: a settlement.
One of the cases, brought by inmate Tashma McFadden, alleged that a gang-tied CO orchestrated a brutal attack on him on July 5, 2006, by other inmates inside BCDC (“Ganging Up,” Oct. 21, 2009). The attack, McFadden claimed, was in retaliation for a verbal exchange McFadden had with the CO the day before, and he was stabbed 32 times after the CO allegedly opened his cell door to allow the attackers in. In 2010, McFadden settled the case with the defendant, CO Antonia Allison—one of the 13 COs now accused of racketeering with the BGF.
Documents in the McFadden case showed that Maryland corrections officials in 2006 and 2007 had been alerted in investigative memos that 16 COs at BCDC were suspected of being members of or affiliated with gangs, but the investigator who turned up the information had been ordered to cease writing the memos. One of the suspected COs was Allison, who, despite the memo naming her and the information that came to light in McFadden’s lawsuit, remained on the job until she was indicted this year.
Another CO named in the same memos as Allison was Duwuane Crew. In 2010, Crew became a defendant in a lawsuit brought by another inmate, Michael Smith, who claimed Crew was a gang-tied CO who facilitated a brutal 2007 attack on him in a prison transport van as it approached BCDC (“The Big Hurt,” Aug. 4, 2010). Smith, who also uses the name Michael Reed, assiduously prosecuted his lawsuit, which included allegations of subsequent attacks in other prisons, with meticulous documentation and surprisingly effective legal arguments.
After finally getting a court-appointed attorney, Smith, on May 1, was given a $40,000 settlement by the Maryland Board of Public Works, prompting more media reports about how Maryland’s correctional-corruption problem is far from new.
Thanks to the efforts of Tashma McFadden and Michael Smith in pressing their claims, the public has been given valuable perspective on this issue. But theirs, which have already received widespread attention, are not the only ones. City Paper scoured the federal court dockets for relevant, robust cases brought by other inmates and found others that have yet to be discussed by the media.
In the months before the FBI’s BGF probe erupted in April with a racketeering indictment involving Maryland COs, another FBI investigation into correctional corruption in Maryland had already borne fruit. Starting in January and continuing in February and March, the U.S. Department of Justice’s headquarters-based Civil Rights Division (DOJ-CRD) secured criminal charges against 15 current and former Maryland COs and correctional supervisors in connection with the 2008 repeated beatings of Kenneth Davis, then an inmate at Roxbury Correctional Institution (RCI) in Hagerstown (“Culture Shock,” March 6). Court documents in the cases describe a “culture” of conspiratorial cover-ups of unlawful beatings of inmates who assaulted COs in Maryland prisons. So far, six of the defendants have pleaded guilty, while the rest have maintained their innocence, and some have recently moved to have their indictments dismissed.
Inmate lawsuits confirm the FBI’s allegations on this front too—but many more than in the settled cases involving claims of gang-tied COs. To tell their stories, a good entry point is inmate claims of abuse involving former CO Brian Hawk.
Hawk’s career as a CO in Western Maryland came to a screeching halt in 2011, when he faced criminal charges in Allegany County that he’d conspired to bring contraband cellphones, phone chargers, and tobacco into Western Correctional Institution (WCI) in Cumberland, and he later pleaded guilty and received a one-year suspended prison sentence. By that time, he’d been a CO for nine years, during which six Maryland inmates brought federal civil rights lawsuits naming Hawk and other COs as defendants.
In some cases, the inmates claimed to have been unlawfully assaulted by Hawk and other COs, sometimes in retaliation for the inmates’ perceived bad conduct. In other cases, they claimed Hawk and other COs had purposefully put them in grave danger by assigning them to prison cells where the COs allegedly hoped or expected the inmates would be attacked by violent cellmates. In one case, brought unsuccessfully by inmate Derek Alexander Roberts in 2009, Hawk is alleged to have placed a piece of paper that read “BGF” over Roberts’ cell door upon Roberts’ arrival at WCI, despite his claims to having no gang affiliation, making prison life a living hell for him from that point on. All of the cases suggest that inmate safety was not high on the list of Hawk’s priorities.
The case involving Hawk that made it the farthest—it was closed in 2010, after a settlement agreement was accepted and placed under seal by a federal judge—was brought in 2008 by inmate Malcolm Maxwell Ryidu-X.
A self-described former police informant who had earned the permanent ire of the Bloods, after having helped bring to an end a brutal Bloods attack on a rival inmate, Ryidu-X was supposed to be held permanently in protective custody, away from the general prison propulation. According to the lawsuit, though, correctional staff repeatedly and improperly placed him in the company of other inmates who wanted him harmed or killed.
In one such instance in early 2008, Hawk allegedly put Ryidu-X in a cell at WCI with a gang-member inmate who proceeded to stab him. Then, while Ryidu-X was getting medical treatment, Hawk allegedly allowed the gang-member inmate to destroy Ryidu-X’s property. Other COs, after having placed Ryidu-X in a cell with another gang-member inmate who repeatedly assaulted him, including sexually, allegedly told him to “fuck or fight.”
Another Hawk-related lawsuit, which recently survived the state’s effort to bring it to a close, was brought by inmate Ronald Haskins, a Baltimore man who’d been in prison since the 1990s for firearms and assault convictions.
On Aug. 9, 2008, Hawk allegedly asked Haskins, “You like assaulting my officers?” and proceeded to attack him under the misapprehension that Haskins had thrown a contraband cellphone at another CO, striking him in the head. Hawk allegedly bashed Haskins’ head into a steel grate and beat and kicked him in the head and body, calling him “nigger,” until he fell unconscious, according to court records, despite other COs’ explanations that Haskins hadn’t thrown the phone.
The COs’ reports of the incident “did not indicate significant use of force” against Haskins, according to court records.
Haskins contended he suffered brain damage and filed a series of administrative grievances over the incident, all of which were dismissed. He also sought to have Hawk charged criminally, but those efforts failed as well.
The factual elements of Haskins’ complaint—that he was beaten and bashed by corrections staff in retaliation for supposedly assaulting a CO—resonate with a veteran Maryland inmate, now free, who claims to have served time in the 1990s and 2000s in nearly every men’s correctional facility in the state.
“They will fuck you up,” says the former inmate, who asked to remain anonymous. “I’ve seen people fucked up so bad [after assaulting COs] they had to be transferred to another prison.” But he claims “that really only happens up in Hagerstown and Cumberland, where you get these hillbillies” working as COs and “everyone’s related, so they can cover up what they want.”
The story of another inmate’s interactions with Hawk also bears repeating, even if it never passed muster in the courts. Gregory Marshall, who claims to suffer from mental illness and blindness, unsuccessfully sued several times after Hawk and other COs at WCI allegedly beat him in 2007, causing an arm fracture and a “busted open” eye, injuries he says went untreated by the prison’s medical staff, because they “are trying to help [the COs] cover it up,” according to court records.
In one of his lawsuits, Marshall writes that the COs retaliated against him by filing false charges that he’d “thrown feces” on them and that a lieutenant told him: “Cumberland’s a small town. Everyone knows someone. Hell, most people working here are related. We know the judge. No one will take the word of a nigger over a white man.”
Heru Hannibal Segu, a former Maryland inmate, claims to have been punched in the face repeatedly by a CO at RCI in 2007 while some COs watched, laughed, and made racist comments. His lawsuit over the alleged brutality survived the state’s attempt to thwart its continued prosecution, and he has been appointed a team of attorneys to represent him. The case is currently in the thick of the discovery process—including a deposition of Ryan Lohr, one of the defendants in the ongoing FBI/DOJ-CRD probe into an allegedly assaultive, retaliatory, and justice-obstructing culture in Maryland’s prisons. Two more criminal defendants in that probe, Tyson Hinckle and Reginald Martin, are named as defendants in Segu’s lawsuit.
Segu claims that Hinckle, while escorting him in handcuffs to a strip-search room at RCI in Oct. 2007, addressed him using racial epithets and told him he was “going to teach [you] a lesson, boy, when you get over there,” according to court documents. Once in the room, Hinckle allegedly punched Segu five times in the face, breaking a tooth. After removing the handcuffs and strip-searching him, he was recuffed, and Hinckle allegedly punched him again in the face. The reason for the beating, according to court documents, is that Segu—who at the time had only two more weeks before being released—was known to file grievances against officers, was “outspoken,” and is a Nation of Islam member. He also contends RCI supervisors “conspired to cover up the incident.”
The defense contends, meanwhile, that Segu was combative and that “the force applied by officers was employed professionally in self-defense.”
Lohr, who pleaded guilty to one count of criminal conspiracy on Jan. 30, about two weeks after he was charged by DOJ-CRD, was deposed in the Segu case on March 14. His testimony, under oath and with the requirement under his criminal plea agreement that he testify truthfully, speaks to the environment in which Segu’s alleged assault took place.
Segu’s attorney, Todd Reinecker, asked Lohr: “Did someone tell you to lie to investigators and obstruct justice?” His response: “I don’t know whether anybody specifically told me to do that. It was kind of a common thing at Roxbury. Things like this happen.” Later, Reinecker asked whether “there is a culture at RCI that accepts or fosters physical or verbal abuse against inmates by correctional officers?” Lohr responded, “I would say yeah.”
Lohr also described a “code of silence” that exists among COs, in which “you don’t tell. I mean, if something happens, you deal with it, that’s it. And, basically, if it ain’t on paper, it never happened.” Lohr went on to admit he lied to investigators on the Kenneth Davis beatings because he feared he’d face retribution for breaking the code of silence if he didn’t—but when asked by Reinecker if Hinckle, Martin, and six other COs and supervisors were “enforcers” of the code, Lohr invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.
“Roxbury repeatedly covered up prisoner abuse, and he was targeted for protesting the abuses.” That’s how U.S. District Judge William Quarles, in a 2012 opinion allowing inmate Benjamin Davis’ 2008 lawsuit to proceed, summarized Davis’ allegations. Like Segu’s case, Davis’ lawsuit intersects with the FBI/DOJ-CRD probe; in fact, it was on track for settlement in January but the negotiations broke down in the wake of the criminal charges being filed, though the state recently moved to enforce the settlement agreement. One of the defendants in the criminal obstruction-of-justice conspiracy case—lieutenant Edwin Stigile, who’s accused of destroying videotape that recorded the beatings Kenneth Davis received—was deposed in Benjamin Davis’ case in January 2012.
Benjamin Davis’ alleged problems initially stemmed from a written statement he gave in support of an inmate he saw assaulted by CO Joseph Harsh in 2007, Quarles’ ruling explains.
“The Roxbury disciplinary committee found that Harsh had used excessive force,” Quarles wrote, and that “Harsh and another officer had lied and filed false statements to cover up the incident.” Despite the fact that Maryland Department of Corrections policy dictates that Harsh therefore should have been fired, Quarles continued, “Harsh was not disciplined, and no record of the findings was placed in his file.”
As a result, Davis claims to have paid dearly in the ensuing months. His repeated requests for medical treatment for bladder and ear infections were ignored by COs until Davis attracted the attention of their superiors by staging a kind of protest: refusing to return to his cell after outdoor recreation. After Davis received the much-overdue treatment, he was found unconscious in his cell, and Harsh allegedly dragged him out of the cell in handcuffs, spraining Davis’ wrist in the process.
A week later, with Davis’ wrist still in a brace, Harsh allegedly ordered him to put his hands through a metal door slot so they could be handcuffed—and proceeded to inflict pain on his injured wrist while dragging his other wrist across the edge of the door slot. After two hours of bleeding while the COs allegedly refused to respond to Davis’ requests for medical care, the resulting laceration was finally closed with 10 sutures, according to court documents.
Days later, Davis’ security status was boosted from “medium” to “maximum,” and when a hearing was held over Harsh’s alleged assault on Davis’ wrist that resulted in sutures, Harsh was cleared—but Davis was deemed to have displayed “assaultive behavior” and was ordered to be moved to North Branch Correctional Institution (NBCI) in Cumberland, Maryland’s highest-security prison, according to Quarles’ opinion.
According to a May 14 filing by the government in Davis’ case, a settlement agreement with Davis had been reached in December, though it has yet to be finalized. The terms included that Davis be reclassified to “medium” security status and transferred to the Maryland Correctional Institute-Jessup (MCI-J), where he would have no cellmate and be given a job. In addition, “good conduct credits” would be restored to Davis, who would receive a settlement check from the State of Maryland in the amount of $28,042.
But there are also two terms in Davis’ settlement agreement involving government reform. One would require that RCI “adopt a 45-day video retention policy”—an issue for Davis, since the state was unable to produce videotapes (they apparently disappeared from a prison vault) that his attorneys believed would have bolstered his claims and undercut the state’s defense. The other, which is presumably related, would require consultation between Davis’ attorneys and the government’s attorneys over the state’s procedures for retaining all information that may prove relevant in litigation.
Numerous other lawsuits alleging brutality against Maryland inmates have survived the state’s efforts to have them brought to an end. Here are some of their stories, based on court documents:
– WCI inmate Todd Woody alleges that the BGF is out to get him, and that in retaliation for Woody reporting thefts of property involving COs and leaders of the Aryan Brotherhood (AB), in 2011 COs forced him into cell assignments with BGF inmates, resulting in him being repeatedly beaten and raped.
– NBCI inmate Phillip Michael Scott alleges that, in retaliation for filing grievances against COs, three COs helped another CO beat and choke him in 2009 while calling him racist names and threatening to kill him, while another three correctional staffers (including two supervisors) watched and did nothing. Subsequently, the CO who beat and choked him allegedly conspired with other COs to file false reports about the incident so that Scott, not they, would be found guilty of infractions.
– Steven Ray Wilkerson was an inmate at MCI-J in 2011, when he claims to have been beaten by a lieutenant. The beating occurred after he’d witnessed, twice in quick succession, COs assaulting inmates, one of them handcuffed. After he and other inmates were ordered into the “bullpen” area of the facility, the lieutenant entered and allegedly announced he was going to “fuck an inmate up”—and allegedly proceeded to do just that to Wilkerson.
– NBCI inmate Alton Tolson claims to have been repeatedly assaulted by COs in 2009 after he’d been involved in an altercation with another CO. As the first beating started, one of the COs allegedly asked Tolson, while punching him in the face, “Why you do that to my homegirl, yo?” After it was over, he was sent to an area hospital for treatment, and the subsequent investigation concluded that Tolson’s “injuries were consistent with the guards’ contention that plaintiff was injured as a result of plaintiff’s own combativeness, rather than by the guards’ malicious use of force.”
Another RCI inmate, David Brightwell, claims to have been unlawfully beaten while handcuffed by five COs who were escorting him from the shower in 2011. One of the COs allegedly said, just prior to the start of the beating, “Since you are a bad nigger, we going to find out.”
After the beating ended in his cell, leaving him with a bloody face and knee, the COs laughed and did nothing in response to his request to be taken to the infirmary for treatment, and his later request for treatment was similarly denied by another three COs. He claims more than two weeks passed before he finally received medical attention and that the physician’s assistant did not note that he’d been withheld treatment for so long. For weeks at a time after the incident, Brightwell says he was not allowed to take showers. In the lengthy grievance process that followed, Brightwell alleges a cover-up occurred, abetted by the administrative-law judge who heard his case, and that his claims were dismissed for procedural reasons at every stage.
During the investigation of the incident, his cellmate told investigators that one of the COs who’d allegedly beaten Brightwell had, on an earlier occasion, “come to their cell with a noose for President Obama” and that the CO who escorted the cellmate to the interview had told him “not to get involved.” Nonetheless, the cellmate substantially corroborated Brightwell’s version of the beating. The COs who were allegedly involved, however, claimed that Brightwell’s trip from the shower back to the cell on the date of the alleged beating had been uneventful.
“Mr. Brightwell alleges that he was attacked by correctional officers at Roxbury,” his attorney, Jason Wallach, explained in an interview. “He believes it was because he was speaking up for other inmates who were being beaten by correctional officers. We are currently working on an amended complaint that will add additional allegations,” Wallach continued.
Wallach says he is aware that DOJ-CRD’s ongoing probe into correctional corruption involving retaliatory beatings of inmates has concluded “it was a culture” in Maryland prisons. The fact that the probe has resulted in charges, and that it continues, he says, “lends credence to Mr. Brightwell’s statements.”
After his May 14 appointment to represent Brightwell, Wallach says “one of the first things I did was to contact the Department of Justice, and I was told the investigation is ongoing.” He says “that leaves open the possibility” that those who allegedly beat Brightwell could be criminally prosecuted, and he speculates that DOJ-CRD is “probably aware” of Mr. Brightwell’s allegations.
“There is plenty of time for the Department of Justice to prosecute any wrongdoing that they may find,” Wallach adds.
Another high tide ebbing at the foot of Thames Street in Fells Point, Baltimore. The National Weather Service routinely announces this location in its coastal flood warnings. This patch of Belgian brick spends more time underwater these days than it used to, thanks to sea-level rise. When a tidal anomaly coincides with strong winds blowing up the Patapsco River, the intersection of Wolfe and Thames streets, a block inland, is prone to inundation. Locals are increasingly without memories of what 2003’s Hurricane Isabel did here, but those who remember can’t forget.
At the foot of Thames Street in Fells Point, sea-level rise is manifest during regularly occurring high-tide anomalies. The apartment complex here had to build a separate egress for its parking lot to stop vehicles from getting stranded. People parking their vehicles on Thames risk inundation above the floorboards.
Our of the backpack, onto the fridge.